soul care, pt. 3 - Jesus as our example

Last month we closed out by saying Jesus best exemplified THE human life - a life that flows out of the heart of God's love, mercy, righteousness, holiness, and justice.  We referenced Philippians 2:5-8 as a way to show what this life looked like.  We saw through this text that God’s idea of a humanity that images him to the world around us, through the life of Jesus, was a humanity lived out in:

Allow me to dive into each of these functions personified in the work and person of Jesus, if for no other reason, but the sake of definition. Then, we will return to the original purpose of this blog series:

Service by means of emptying - The idea of emptying found in Philippians 2:5-8 is not merely the idea of "emptying of" only, but rather the idea of being "emptied of in order to be emptied into" - or emptying out of, from one set of properties into another.  It’s the same idea found in 2 Corinthians 2:8-9, where Paul tells us that Jesus emptied himself of his richness and into poverty for the good of the other.  Hebrews 2:17 takes this so far as to insinuate that the mercy and empathy of God was brought to its depth and fullness because of Christ’s emptying into the other.  Then, Matthew 20:28, shows us that the evangelists will go as far as saying that this is not just one of the reasons Jesus came, but the primary reason.  We all want to be full of gratitude for the very fact that Jesus did this for us; but if we jump back up to our Philippians text, we see that the proof of our gratitude is shown as we “have this mind among” us... meaning - our gratitude for Christ’s service by means of emptying should be displayed in lives of service by means of emptying.   Here’s the deal, this sort of life seems daunting if not impossible, and at best creates burnout. This is why I believe we can’t jump from being selfish demons to self-emptying saints in a moments notice, but rather we need practices and rhythms in our lives that help care for and shape our souls so to produce this sort of person

Incarnationguided and informed by grace and truth...- Christ’s ontology among us was balanced, it did not weigh more to one side or the other, in fact it was informed and guided by two elements which seem to be in opposition to each other in our world. In the life of Christ, they not only complimented each other, they were weaved together so tightly that one could not exist without the other in his being and thus in his function as a human.  Three words that drive the depth of this home:

  • Full - which means to be permeated with, covered in every part, as if there was no room for anything else.  I think of my ruck sack that I recently packed for Haiti. I packed it so tight with clothes and books, there was no room for other substances within the bag, it was bursting at the seems with these two items there was no room for anything else - the person of Jesus, the servant Jesus (to use our Philippians text) was packed full of grace and truth - there was no room for selfish ambition, bigotry, lust, or any other disposition - and it was this grace and truth that caused him to weep over Jerusalem in compassion, caused him to drive out the money changers in the temple fueled by justice, drove him into times of solitude with his Father, and made him obedient to the point of death...he was full of it, and his person had no room for anything else that would shape his humanity into any sort of distortion of being the true human.
  • Grace - That which affords joy, pleasure, delight, sweetness, charm, loveliness, good-will, loving-kindness, favor. At the end of the day I can tell you my existence toward others cannot be defined by this afore mentioned description of grace - but it should be.  Again, this sort of life “packed-full” of grace and truth is not something we can just “do,” we must be formed into it. We need disciplines that help us identify the other junk in our suitcase that is taking up space – space in the place only to be reserved for grace and truth.
  • Truth - Often times in our minds, truth is a set of propositional facts. It is something that is one-dimensional and can be memorized or regurgitated by almost anyone without much cost, but Jesus’ truth cost him – it cost him his life.  His was a truth that shaped his personhood. It was the product, not of memorized facts, but of a relationship with his Father - a dialogical truth shaped in the fire of a love relationship between him, the Father, and the Spirit. It was truth as person, truth with texture, truth with depth, truth at a cost.  This is why Jesus will later tell us that truth is not a system of facts we must memorize, but truth is a person that we must engage. This engagement will ultimately shape the truth we know because of the truth that knows us at a soul level.  

Obedience shaped by submission and suffering - Suffering…it seems almost selfish that I have any sort of right to this word.  I’ve traveled the world, and I’ve seen suffering.  I have seen it, I’ve touched it, smelled it, and wept over it; but the depth of suffering in which I have witnessed, I have never actually experienced.  Not to belittle the word, but being that I am a melancholy introvert, I have wrestled with a suffering soul and mind. I have had a few numbered times where true heartache was my reality.  But I cannot claim ownership of the word suffering like many of my friends across the world can - those who have suffered far-reaching loss, war, extreme poverty, and oppression.  I have not had to suffer sexual, physical, or mental abuse.  I’ve not suffered the loss of a parent, spouse, child, or sibling; so I am not assuming in any way that I have the corner on understanding suffering.  All that said, scripture talks about suffering at many levels. It talks about a kind of suffering that Jesus experienced due to his willingness to embrace the suffering of others through relationship and community, which leads to an empathy that very few of us know. Scripture talks about a kind of suffering that is the result of denying and killing your sinful will, sinful dispositions, and sinful desires that we feel are part of our very personhood - to rip these out of our hearts through obedience causes the soul to suffer, but like a phoenix, our person rises once again in a new way.  Jesus experienced both of these sufferings by willfully submitting himself to them and these resulted in his obedience, and Paul calls us to willfully submit to this sort of suffering –a suffering that is opposed to our western ways of overmedicating ourselves with entertainment, consumerism, and the like in order to avoid suffering that corresponds with two things:  (1) embracing the suffering of other [true empathy] (2) the denial of the will.  Again, this is why we need to willfully submit ourselves to practices and disciplines that help shape and care for our souls, as opposed to allowing ourselves to be addicted to the fast pace, get-it-done mindset that leaves us a shadow of a person.  To be honest, I find comfort in ignoring or being ignorant of the plight of the other, because I simply love my own will too much.

Now back to the original summed up question that launched this blog series: “what sort of practices and rhythms can we use for soul-care so that we end up being shaped into a people who are both oriented both human and Godward, rather than burnt out shadows of the real thing?”  If we don't have practices that help us care for our own soul, we end up trying to force this sort of humanity on ourselves and end up - at best - in a state of burnout; rather than, the practices being the natural outflowing of a healthy soul that is  deeply enjoying Jesus.   So, what are these rhythms and practice that we can put in place to help us move deeply into real soul-care?  I think they can be narrowed down to the following four categories:

  • Contemplative Practices (slow and focused)...
  • Communal Practice..
  • Environmental Practices...
  • Servant Practices...

 but this for another blog...until next month